Attractive nuisance laws describe hazards so fascinating to children they lure kids in. Serious injuries can result.
Unguarded pools top the list of attractions irresistible to children yet potentially fatal.
Curiosity thrives in children. They’re drawn to danger. Hazards irresistibly attract children while presenting hidden dangers.
Abandoned refrigerators, holes in the ground, construction sites, trenches and high voltage power lines present attractive nuisances.
How Is Attractive Nuisance Handled By The Law?
Consider the case of a ten year old girl who, with other children, wandered onto a property where rubbish was being burned, unsupervised. Other kids threw sand on the fire. She steps on hot coals, then falls forward, sustaining severe permanent burns on her hands and feet.
This happened in New Hampshire, where the attractive nuisance doctrine had long been rejected. Courts there traditionally held that owners of land bear no obligation to keep property in a safe condition for prevention of injury to trespassers.
But in this case the court tossed the old law. Instead, ‘henceforth’ property owners are held to a test of reasonable care under all circumstances in maintaining property. This means balancing what dangers are foreseeable against the duty of taking reasonable precautions. Circumstances of the injured person’s ‘intrusion’ remain relevant in determining the property owner’s standard of care. The case is Ouellette v. Blanchard decided in 1976 by the NH Supreme Court.
What Are Attractive Nuisances?
Some jurisdictions including California have abolished the attractive nuisance doctrine and replaced it with rules for specific conditions such as open pits and refrigerators.
A Pennsylvania court found an attractive nuisance may exist where two 17-year-olds climbed a ladder on the side of a train. They reached up and received severe burns from 12,000 volt overhead catenary lines used to power the trains. One boy received burns over 75% of his body and his left ear was blown off. A 2006 federal court decision denied the railroad’s motion to dismiss.
A Connecticut jury awarded $73,530 in damages to a minor child who fractured an ankle when he rode a scooter on a skateboard ramp at a private home. In the 2009 case, the court found that the homeowner’s habit of leaving scooters adjacent to the skateboard ramp qualified as an attractive nuisance.
Massachusetts passed a child trespasser statute. Under MGL c. 231, § 85Q property owners face liability where they know or should know that an artificial condition on their land poses an unreasonable risk of death or serious bodily harm where children because of their youth do not realize the risk of intermeddling with the condition.
What Is The Law On Attractive Nuisance Injuries?
Laws protecting children in this area vary by state. Whether attractive nuisance is accepted or rejected, most courts in one way or another recognize that reasonable precautions are a must where those who own or manage property maintain conditions posing substantial foreseeable risk of harm to young people.
My office handles personal injury claims in Massachusetts and New Hampshire.